Conservative Leader Stephen Harper seized on a new report showing Ottawa recorded a $5-billion surplus in the first quarter as evidence that his fiscal plan is working.
As it has during previous election campaigns, Finance Canada continues to publish its monthly Fiscal Monitor reports, which provide a running tally of federal revenues and expenses throughout the year.
Friday's report for June 2015 showed Ottawa ran a $1.1-billion surplus that month, compared to a $1.6-billion surplus in June 2014.
For the first three months of the fiscal year that began April 1, Ottawa is running a surplus of $5-billion, which is up from a surplus of $424-million during the same three months in the previous fiscal year. About $2.1-billion of that amount is related to the government's April 6 one-time move to sell its remaining shares in General Motors.
The monthly Fiscal Monitor tracking reports can be highly volatile based on the timing of various government expenses and sources of revenue.
Mr. Harper quickly issued a statement Friday following the latest report.
"This means that we're actually ahead of the game on our budget plan, while at the same time delivering historic tax relief directly to Canadian families. That's good for Canada and good for the economy," said Mr. Harper, who went on to criticize the NDP and Liberal fiscal plans.
Finance Canada itself cautioned against reading too much into the early figures. The department said Friday that the numbers "provide limited information" with respect to the outlook for the year as a whole.
"That being said, the financial results through the April to June 2015 period are consistent with the fiscal projection for 2015-16 presented in the budget," the department stated.
Finance Minister Joe Oliver's April 21 budget projected a surplus of $1.4-billion in 2015-16. However the budget was based on the assumption that the economy would grow by 2 per cent in 2015. The Bank of Canada has since reported that it expects growth of about 1.1 per cent.
When the government announced the GM share sale on April 6, critics accused the Conservatives of deliberately timing the sale to coincide with the start of the 2015-16 fiscal year because that is when the Conservatives had set the political goal of balancing the books.
Parliamentary Budget Officer Jean-Denis Fréchette issued a report in July that incorporated the Bank of Canada's numbers. As a result, the PBO said the 2015-16 fiscal year is on track for a $1-billion deficit.
The Liberal Party issued a statement Friday accusing Mr. Harper of blatantly misleading Canadians by promoting a "phony" surplus. The Liberals argue the PBO numbers are more reliable.
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau announced Thursday that a Liberal government would not balance the budget until 2019 in order to fund $60-billion in new spending on infrastructure in an effort to boost economic growth. The Liberals said this could lead to deficits of no more than $10-billion in each of the next two years. The Conservatives and NDP are both promising balanced budgets.
Mr. Trudeau appeared Friday with former Prime Minister and finance minister Paul Martin in Montreal, where they accused the NDP of following the same economic approach as the Conservatives.
"I've made a choice to be upfront and honest about our economic situation," said Mr. Trudeau, arguing that now is the time for federal investments in roads, bridges, social housing and public transit. He said Mr. Harper has previously campaigned on balancing the books only to run years of deficits.
"Quite frankly, I don't know why anyone takes him seriously on the issue of deficits at all," said Mr. Trudeau. "He has consistently promised things that he has been unable to deliver."
NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair promised this week that an NDP government would balance the books starting in 2016-17. On Friday, he argued that Mr. Trudeau's plan would burden future generations with debt.
"Mr. Trudeau seems to have the same approach as Mr. Harper - they both want to live for today and let tomorrow take care of itself," he said. "There's a reason why we want to be good public administrators with balanced budgets, because if we're not, then we're not going to be able to have the types of programs that we all believe in going into the future."